FALLING OUT OF LOVE: AN INTRODUCTION
BY MALCOLM IMRIE
This piece was originally published in SIGHT & SOUND as an introduction to "Falling Out Of Love." Daney was still alive at the time that this introduction was written. I've left out Imrie's first paragraph since almost all of the information in it is reproduced elsewhere on the site.
...That "Falling Out Of Love" is one of only three articles translated into English (sic--Steve) from a writer generally regarded as France's greatest living film critic says a lot about the insularity of British culture. It also makes the task of introducing him rather daunting. One way of situating his work may be to mention some of the writers he himself uses as reference points.
First and foremost, there is Andre Bazin, founder of CAHIERS DU CINEMA: "Bazin is at the center of CAHIERS and of my work. Because if you can't believe a little in what you see on the screen, it's not worth wasting your time on cinema." Almost as important has been another CAHIERS writer, Jean Douchet: "He taught us to look at films in detail, even to the point of a kind of interpretative delirium, which, given the platitudes of contemporary criticism, isn't such a terrible thing." One could add Guy Debord, whose THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE - as this article may indicate - was a formative text, Felix Guattari (Daney often repeated his claim that cinema has been the closest thing we have to mass psychoanalysis) and Gilles Deleuze. Deleuze himself has praised Daney's "ceaseless quest for profound connections between cinema and thought" and his insistence on film criticism's poetic and aesthetic role, as well as noting the tension in his work between his passionate enthusiasm for the aleatory, singular, redemptive 'supplements' of meaning to be found in even the most banal films, and his awareness of the threatened future of both cinema and the critic.
Thomas Elsaesser was right to point out (SIGHT & SOUND, April 1992) that for Daney, cinema and its history "has become a kind of truth, namely our truth," but wrong to suggest that his move to LIBERATION marked his "embracing, indeed celebrating, television, advertising and commercial video." Daney has described cinema as something which "accompanies" the world; its antithesis is televison, "which shows the world the door, or puts it on a waiting list." Daney was not a television critic ("There will never be any television critics"); far from embracing television, his column in LIBERATION was an attempt to see what happened to films and life as television embraced them. As Deleuze has argued, Daney doesn't attack television for its imperfections but for its perfection: its perfect, controlling combination of the technical and the social and, as a result, its nullity in terms of aesthetics and ideas.
Despite his constant search for exceptions, signs of life and innovations, it's evident that Daney's pessimism towards television has increased. One obvious turning point came with the Gulf War, a frequent target of his LIBERATION pieces. "According to US strategy, if you never see the other, his destruction will be more acceptable...so that when Iraqi soldiers surrendered, sooner than expected, it was as if they emerged from a dream, a flashback, a lost epoch - an epoch when the enemy still had a body and was still 'like us.' We could call that epoch cinema." Another stage in what he called "the disappearance of the individual, the marketing of experience" has been marked by the spread of the "reality shows" he refers to in this article: television has finally been handed over to the people; on condition, of course, that the people hand themselves over to television, become a "tele-people."
Daney had described himself as a passeur, a border-crosser, a go-between. And his writing has always displayed the delight in discovery, the garrulous erudition, and the generosity which are the hallmarks of a good passeur, a good critic. But the days of the passeur, he feels, are numbered: "Because the media no longer ask those who know something (or love something or, worst of all, know why they love something) to share that knowledge with the public. Instead, they ask those who know nothing to represent the ignorance of the public and, in doing so, to legitimate it. To 'speak for others' always comes down to claiming droit de seigneur over their ignorance. Cinema's greatness lay in the fact that an individual (a director, a writer, an actor) could in some way touch another individual in the collective anonymity of the auditorium. Which is elitist, to be sure, but it's a popular elitism. It can work for anybody."